Why haven’t we got more flagship social enterprises?

The Big issue, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Divine chocolate – and just a handful of others. For many, these are the national social enterprise brands that come to mind when social enterprise is mentioned.

And even then, if we’re honest, it is probably quite unlikely that the average person in the street is thinking, “Ah, what great examples of social enterprise…” No, even now, they are far more likely to think, “Ah, great charities doing great work…”

This is just a personal view, but I’m increasingly convinced the term “social enterprise” is unsatisfactory. True, it’s a relatively new term that only really entered the lexicon ten years ago, but it’s vague and abstract; it isn’t synonymous with an activity. It doesn’t prompt the kind of understanding that Fairtrade does, for instance — which is ironic, because many fairtrade businesses are social enterprises. (Although not all, of course. Cadbury’s has just announced that biggest-selling brand Cadbury’s Dairy Milk will henceforth be fairtrade — adding 300m bars of Fairtrade chocolate a year at a stroke.)

Maybe this will change with time, but increasingly I believe that revisiting the language of social enterprise is a prerequisite for fostering greater public understanding.

Anyway, this post isn’t about definitions or language (although anyone with any better suggestions than “social enterprise” should please make urgent use of our comments facility!), it’s about flagship social enterprises.

Flagship social enterprises are important — (a) because there are so few of them, and (b) because they can help significantly raise the overall profile and understanding of the sector.

So it is good to see that as part of its Trading Know-How project Social Enterprise West Midlands has chosen five flagship social enterprises in the West Midlands region which will form part of a national PR campaign specifically intended to raise up another group of nationally recognised SE ‘brands’.

Birmingham’s own Gateway Family Services — one of the first Community Interest Companies to be ‘spun-out’ of a PCT (South Birmingham PCT) — is one of them.

Congratulations to Vicki Fitzgerald, the CEO at Gateway, and to all of her team.

  1. Charles Rapson Reply

    It could be that I’m just dense but I had never heard, nor understood the term Social Enterprise until I joined SUSTAiN (aka Colebridge Trust) about 3 years ago. I found myself out of work when MG Rover collapsed. That was OK as I wanted to do something different anyway. At no time did my so called ‘advisors’ at Business Link or the Job Centre suggest Social Enterprise as an option – in spite of my “I want to do something different where I can use my industry experience and skills. Teaching, own business and various random options were offered but no mention of Social Enterprise as an avenue.
    I stumbled into it and wish I knew then what I know now.

    There is a need to give Social Enterprise a better public profile. How, I dont know. But we could start to raise awareness with those people (front line ideally) who will be giving career advise to thousands or millions of people in the next few months or years. Just think how much experience & skills are going to suddenly become available. Clouds do have silver linings.

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